What Does the Enneagram 3 Look Like in Stress?

Category: Type Three

When an Enneagram 3 in stress is integrated and well-adjusted, they will manage stressful situations gracefully and proactively. They will see their discomfort as a sign that changes are required, and they will put in the time and effort necessary to make them.

But an Enneagram 3 who hasn’t fully come to grips with their psychological and emotional vulnerabilities may react differently. For this individual, stress can have a devastating impact. They can go from an active high achiever with an infectious attitude who inspires others, to a sullen and apathetic underachiever who struggles to fulfill their responsibilities or make meaningful connections with others.

If you’re an Enneagram 3 who has experienced depression or mood swings in response to stress, you should know that you’re not alone. Others who share your traits have experienced the same. Many of them have eventually learned to overcome their plight, however, and you have the inner strength necessary to do the same.

Who Is the Enneagram 3 and Why Do They React Badly to Stress?

An Enneagram 3 always wants to stand out from the crowd. They seek to accomplish the extraordinary, while being reliable and dependable when attending to the details. Whether at work or at play, or cultivating and maintaining relationships, they rely on their vision plus their willpower to overcome any challenges that might arise.

But if an Enneagram 3 in stress is unable to manage a particular challenge, or feels overwhelmed by new developments, they may shift into retreat mode. To the shock of co-workers or loved ones, they may suddenly seem passive, disinterested, or beaten down, as if they’re too depressed to keep trying and believing. This is a startling change, given they are normally the type that will keep striving and driving and pushing to succeed.

When an Enneagram 3 in stress reacts this way, it reveals a lot about how they view themselves and the world.

While on the outside they’ve always seemed confident, their competitive and hard-driven ways have actually been a response to feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy. They feel an incessant need to prove themselves over and over again, and when difficult circumstances frustrate their best efforts the stress that develops may be quite overwhelming. And so instead of persevering they may shut down completely, hampered by doubts that can harm their self-image and shatter their self-confidence.

What has just been described is a worst-case scenario. The typical Enneagram 3 in stress may experience these symptoms less intensely, allowing them to continue to perform even though they aren’t feeling well or at their best.

But in reality they are just going through the motions, and that is not the same as truly living. Regardless of the intensity of their emotions they are still suffering, and that is a situation that should be (and can be!) addressed.

If you’re an Enneagram 3 who loses initiative and motivation under stress, you should know that it doesn’t have to be like this forever. Change is within your grasp, and you can put your patented Enneagram 3 willpower and determination to work to help make that change happen. 

Changing Your Perceptions through Greater Self-Awareness

Before you can progress, you must recognize that your fear of being exposed as unworthy has been the real source of most of your stress all along. This is a special vulnerability that Enneagram 3s have; they are often driven by a need to prove their worthiness to themselves and others through external achievements. When their efforts fail, they take it personally. They become frustrated by their struggles and fearful that others may be judging them harshly, and not surprisingly this reaction manifests in feelings of unbearable stress.

The Enneagram 3 in stress may convince themselves that the high expectations of others, whom they don’t want to let down or disappoint, are responsible for the pressure they feel. But in reality the stress is self-generated, and a sign that the normal coping mechanisms have broken down.

The good news is that once you become aware of the real issue, your chances of overcoming it will be significantly enhanced. Realizing that life is not an endless competition that constantly produces winners and losers (that’s a distorted perspective) can lower your stress threshold substantially. When you become aware of the fresh promise that each day offers, you’ll become excited about life and that will make you much less likely to succumb to the debilitating impact of stress in the future.

To spark your personal evolution, you must replace excessively high demands with realistic expectations. This doesn’t mean becoming less hopeful or optimistic, or surrendering to challenges without putting up a fight. It simply means you should redefine your failures and disappointments as opportunities for learning and growth, rather that viewing them as proof that you don't have what it takes and don't deserve to be successful.

With good, consistent effort and a positive attitude, you can keep growing, learning, improving, and achieving, at a pace that is both satisfying and sustainable. That is a realistic expectation, and one that can function as an empowering alternative to your old model of success.

One thing to remember is that you don’t have to go through it alone. You can tell your loved ones all about the changes you want to make and explain exactly why it is important to make them. You can tell them that you’re ready to own your dysfunctional stress response, and willing to take full responsibility for altering it. They can then become your allies and your supporters as you make a concentrated effort to reprogram your mind to stop creating stress when it doesn’t really have to exist.

Developing Empathy as a Remedy for Stress

Becoming self-aware and learning patience and self-acceptance will promote healthier reactions to challenging circumstances. Another way to alter your perspective is to tap into your compassionate side more frequently, as you strive to develop your neglected capacity for empathy.

When you really start thinking about what is best for others and not just about yourself, you’ll stop trying to compete all the time in the workplace (which is inevitably a stressful enterprise, because you always feel like you have to win and that it is very hard to do).  As you tap into your latent potential for empathy, your ideas about what career success means will be more team-oriented and less self-centered, which will eliminate a major source of stress from your life. 

In relationships, your insecurities will lessen as you learn to think more about the welfare of your friends, partners, children, and other family members. You’ll begin to genuinely take joy in the happiness and successes of your loved ones, experiencing their emotions as if they were your own. You’ll invest your heart and soul into making the people you care about happy, and they will reciprocate both your loving actions and your caring attitude.

What this means is that you won’t have to think up strategies, develop plans, or make carefully rehearsed speeches to convince people to stay with you. Your unselfishness will make the bonds that connect you stronger, so when problems do arise you’ll know they can be resolved and that you won’t end up being abandoned.

Moving Beyond Stress to Achieve Your Highest Potential

When an Enneagram 3 in stress is feeling overwhelmed and powerless, it can be hard to imagine that better days will ever come. But once you make the conscious decision not to accept your sad and sorry fate, you will no longer be bound by your unhealthy reactions. You’ll be able to take that determination you’ve always had, that burning desire to prove you can conquer the toughest challenges, and apply it to your efforts to escape from stress to become a fully integrated and completely self-aware Enneagram 3.

If you are successful in making the transition to a new way of thinking and being, the rewards you experience will be immense. A happy, healthy, and well-adjusted Enneagram 3 is a marvel and a sight to behold. They are a major force for good in the world, as they use their drive and ambition to elevate everyone around them.

Once you learn to manage and control your stress and the feelings that provoke it, you will have the chance to join the ranks of these difference-makers. You will have finally unlocked your potential for greatness, and the lives of the people you care about the most will be better because of it.

Nathan Falde

Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.

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